Greetings! My name is Afryea Williams. I’m 17 years old and in the 12th grade. I am a Peer Advisor for Girls For A Change. A Peer Advisor is an ambassador who endorses all things GFAC. A Peer Advisor works on social media content, promoting GFAC programs, and is an overall leader. This fall, an opportunity for the Peer Advisors to travel to California and Atlanta arose. While in California, we explored careers in film, PR, and more. While in Atlanta, we attended the Justice for Black Girls Conference. Here’s a recap of our trip.
When our plane landed in San Francisco, my worries melted. I’ve always enjoyed San Francisco because of its bohemian, slow-paced vibes. It’s like a giant Carytown. My peers and I were ecstatic. We took nonstop pictures of the views: the oceans, buildings, and more. Once we were in the city, there was a huge culture shock. Everywhere you turned, there was a hill – and they weren’t small. They were huge and neverending. It was like an involuntary roller coaster. Eventually, we made it to our fancy hotel and “oo’d” and “aa’d”. After getting acquainted with the hotel, we rode on a trolley to Ferry Building Marketplace. The marketplace was a mixture of indoor and outdoor shops that reminded me of a train station. We split up to venture out for food. There were so many options. They had Jamaican, Mexican, Italian, and so much more. After we were done eating, we decided to look around. We stumbled across a thrift store that had a lot of niche clothing. It ranged from hippie to streetwear to even some coquette. Right outside of the thrift store, there were outdoor vendors. They had jewelry, body products, and clothes. While outside, my peers and I networked with Blazed, a woman-owned suit company. After spending some time at the marketplace we rode the trolley back to our hotel.
On Monday, we headed to Lucasfilm. I grew up watching Star Wars, and this time, we got the official tour. Last year when we went, due to Covid, we weren’t able to see everything. We were greeted by the long-time PR Head at Lucasfilm, Lynne Hale. While on the tour, we watched reels of the behind-the-scenes work at Lucasfilm. We saw various subsections of Lucasfilm, like ILM and their internship programs. Once we finished watching the reels, we saw props from movies Lucasfilm produced (like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, E.T., etc.) After our tour, we met with Kristen Baver and Tameka Causey. They run an internet show called “This Week!” that focuses on all things Star Wars. After they told us more about their jobs, they allowed me and my peers to have a run-through with their teleprompter. We broke up for lunch and talked with Queen Denchukwu (Queen Deb). She discussed diversity and inclusion at Lucasfilm. Queen spent a lot of her career mentoring young girls – especially young girls throughout the diaspora, not just in America. One thing she said that resonated with me was, “Women are the background of communities and societies.”
A quote from Queen Deb that stuck out to Peer Advisor Nadia Fraser: “We are planting a seed so years from now things will start to blossom.”
After lunch, we met with game developers for Star Wars and tried a VR demo.
At the end of our tour, we talked about careers with three guest speakers: Michelle Phung (events), Jessica Verran-Linguard (Associate Principal Counsel), and LeAndre Thomas (Manager, Franchise Video Assets and Director at Lucasfilm). I was intrigued by how Michelle Phung helped make such large-scale events for Lucasfilm. Seeing someone so young and a fellow person of color making moves in such a large industry was amazing.
Jessica Verran-Linguard was a lawyer who focused on negotiating contracts. I didn’t know there were specific lawyers on that path. I liked how she also found ways to prioritize her personal life and goals and balanced them with her work.
With LeAndre Thomas, I was inspired by how a young Black man wrote and produced an episode in Star Wars Visions titled “The Pit.” I was especially intrigued by how it was in the style of anime. He used a Black-owned anime studio; during the time, I didn’t know there were any Black-owned anime studios. He told us it took him years to finish it, but I felt a sense of pride after seeing the end products.
This was one of my favorite days. We went to Pixar Animation Studios! I was so happy. I grew up watching so many Pixar films with my friends and family. I was curious to see how they were created. While we were there, I was amazed at the architecture. It was an open concept and reminded me of an aesthetically pleasing coffee shop. Our tour guide discussed their recent film, “Elementals,” and we saw early concepts of the film. We saw some original dialogue, storyboards, and brainstorming. I was shocked to learn it took them eight years to create Elementals. Usually, creating an animated movie takes 3-4 years. It took them longer than usual because they had to figure out effective ways to animate fire, water, earth, and air.
We met with Becki Tower, a Directing Animator, who walked us through the animation for Toy Story 4, focusing on Bo Peep. They had to analyze different gymnasts and martial artists to figure out her movements. They analyzed fashion from the 1800s. During our meeting with Becki Tower, we had a surprise visit from the President of Pixar, Jim Morris, who shared wisdom about staying on the path and in something. Then we had lunch and talked with Danielle Feinberg (Visual Effects Supervisor / Director of Photography, Lighting) and Kim Diaz (Talent Director). They talked about their paths and how we should pursue our dreams. They told us it wouldn’t benefit us if we suppress what we love, and there’s no harm in trying.
Here’s what other Peer Advisors had to say about this experience.
“Becki Tower really helped me conceptualize how detailed the animation process is. The amount of research, time, and money that goes into the animation of one character is unreal. Becki was able to show us the functionality of Bo Peep from Toy Story 4 on computer programming software. She told us that in the eyes of Bo Peep alone, there needs to be around 30 different kinds of movement so she can express a variety of emotions properly. Not only that, but she also explained to us that there was a lot of research that went into her character. Her body type, her personality, her various outfits, and how she takes advantage of her environment to maneuver her space were all carefully calculated. After talking with Becki Tower, it really made me appreciate the animation process much more.” – Meghan McGhee
“I found Danielle Feinburg to be remarkable. She works at Pixar Animation as the Director of Photography, Lighting, and Visual Effects Supervisor. She was the first woman to take on the role of Visual Effects Supervisor at Pixar in 20 years. I was prompted to reflect on one of her statements, ‘Taking opportunities opens up more opportunities.’ I related a lot to this quote. I tend to prioritize other people above myself, and occasionally, I’m afraid to seize opportunities. I never realized that doing that will make me never take risks. I also came to the realization that opportunities will always present themselves to others if you seize them. She is an extremely wise and informed individual, and I will take her advice for the duration of my future career.” – Asani Ka-Re
“Talking to Becki Tower gave me more knowledge and understanding about how my interests could be useful in animation. Before talking to her, I didn’t think I could do much outside of the health or justice field with my major. The highlight of my trip was the first-hand visuals of the animation and learning about the different teams for different characters. Her presentation made me excited for future opportunities, and I’m glad we got to talk to her!” – Kileya Johnson
We went to an Exploratorium. I’ve never enjoyed math or science, but I had a fun time there because they had a creative and interactive approach to their exhibits. Then we went to the Museum of the African Diaspora. The art was beautiful and confusing. With this art, you had to sit with it and find the meaning or read the description for more clarity.
For lunch, we went to Vegan Mob, and then we went thrifting. The first thrift store we went to was called ReLove. It was Black-owned. As soon as we got inside, the vibes were immaculate. We talked to the owner, who told us about her journey and love of sustainable fashion. She gave us tips on how to buy sustainable fashion and how we could contribute to helping our planet. We went to a few more thrift stores, and we prepared for our departure to L.A.
After arriving in L.A., we went to Warner Brothers. I’ve always loved Disney movies – especially all of the princess movies that came out when I was growing up. While were were on our tour, We discussed how Walt Disney and his brother started the company and the issues they had creating it (like going bankrupt multiple times). I had respect for their persistence. In the earlier days of animation, it would take hundreds of frames to make a second of animation. They had to make everything precise, and all of the animators had to create paint and document it for every scene to ensure everything was the same. While there, we also met with the Lucasfilm branch: Rayne Roberts, Vice President of Film Development, Chris Coxall, Vice President of Publicity and Communications, and President Kathleen Kennedy. They told us about their journeys and answered all of our questions.
Then we went to Hart House. I was shocked to learn that Kevin Hart has a plant-based restaurant. While there, we met the Social Media team, and they gave us free milkshakes. They were delicious and, gave us coupons to come back. They also talked to us about careers in social media and what it takes to be an influencer.
Then we went to the Jhud (Jennifer Hudson) Show. I was so excited. She is such a kind person, and I loved how she listened to her guests, Lily Singh and Ramit Sethi.
This day was focused on sightseeing. First, We went to the Grammy Museum’s “Hip Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit.” If you are in LA check it out. It is informative, engaging, and full of hands-on experiences. On their first level was their gift shop. On the second level, they paid tribute to Shakira. Then, the next floor was dedicated to all things hip-hop. They had different activities like listening to iconic beats and creating your own.
Then we went to a wax museum called Madame Tussauds. They had many celebrities as wax figures like Beyonce, Michael Jackson, and Barack Obama. We took thousands of pictures while we were there. The details on the wax figures were incredible. You would think that you were standing next to the real celebrities. After sightseeing, we had dinner and headed to the airport for our last and final destination: Atlanta, Georgia.
When we arrived in Atlanta, we went to a Black-owned restaurant called Breakfast Boys. The vibes reminded me of a Sunday dinner with your family. We went back to our hotel and had a mental health session. I appreciated how GFAC took the time out for us to reset. During our session, we talked about what mental health meant to us, we journaled, and then, to wrap things up, we did a sound bath. After that, we went to a Black-owned tea shop. During our trip, I was proud to be supporting so many Black-owned businesses. To end the night, we visited the Ponce City Market. I was taken aback by how big and diverse it was. It reminded me of an outdoor festival, just that it was inside.
We went to Spelman for the Justice for Black Girls Conference. At first, I was apprehensive about going because I assumed it would be boring. Usually, when I attend summits, they often feel like lectures that remind me of school. It was anything but. It was extremely interactive and fun. It felt like an authentic Black girl experience. They had sessions catered towards mental health, yoga, hand-clap games, hair care, and so much more. While on campus, I was surprised by how close Moorehouse and Spelman were. I thought they were separate, but they actually share campuses. While we were there we met Nikki Giovanni and Michaela Angela Davis (the creator of Hair Tales). I was incredibly honored to meet them and learn more about the moves they made in the Black community.
The overall theme of this trip is to go for your dreams. After meeting all of the executives in film, PR, and law, they all had similar advice: do what you love. They all had different paths and careers, but they all came to that conclusion. It inspired me to try the things I love because I’ll never know where it’ll take me if I don’t pursue it.